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Proposed Florida Law Would Require Warrants for Cellphone Searches

Posted in Intellectual Property, Privacy & Data Security, Social Media

Florida lawmakers have proposed that the government be required to obtain a warrant before searching the contents of “portable electronic devices” or tracking their locations.  The bill, S.B. 846, was introduced by State Representative Jeff Brandes and would go into effect on July 1, 2013.

The proposed Florida law would apply to “portable electronic devices,” such as cellphones.  The bill defines a “portable electronic device” as “an object capable of being easily transported or conveyed by a person which is capable of creating, receiving, accessing, or storing electronic data or communications and that communicates with, by any means, another entity or individual.”  The bill specifically prohibits two different government actions.  First, the “contents and communications” of a portable electronic device, which include “data or information contained in or transmitted from” the device, may not be searched or seized by the government without a warrant.  The warrant requirement is subject to certain exceptions in the bill, such as searches related to national security, missing children, emergencies that are reasonably believed to involve death or serious physical injury, and existing exceptions to the warrant requirement.

Second, the bill would prohibit the government from obtaining the location information, both past and present, of an electronic device without a search warrant.  This provision is also subject to certain exceptions, such as national security events, missing children, emergency situations, and when the owner of the device requests its location information.  In addition, the bill provides that such location search warrants may only be issued for a period of time that is necessary to achieve the objective of the search, and in any event no longer than the earlier of 30 days from the date the location information is initially obtained or ten days after the warrant is obtained.

For further discussion of the Florida bill, see here.  For a discussion of how other state legislatures have attempted to address this issue and how courts across the country are divided, see here.